New Adaptation Updates Classic Novel
Director brings modern elements to 19th century Russia
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Last weekend, the college of Bill Peters condensed over a year's worth of work and 800 pages of script into a two-part Russian play called, “The Karamozovs.”

Hundreds of people filled The Little Theater in the Creative Arts building to watch Bill Peters' The Karamozovs, a five-hour performance split into two parts, inspired by Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel, “The Brothers Karamazov.” More than 100 contributors prepared up to a year-and-a-half in advance to woo the audience back to a contemporary world in a fictional Russian town.

Peters said changes from the book to the stage floor were made to portray modern society. For example, he said females replaced four or five of the male characters because women did not receive lead roles the 19th century, when the book took place.

"When the original model was written what the audience would have seen was contemporaries. I wanted us to be seen as contemporary but I didn't want to push it to the point where we had cell phones and plasma screens," Peters said.

Journeys through emotions and actions collided while actors smoked cigarettes and drank vodka and brandy onstage. Eclectic family members and friends with long Russian names such as Smerdyakov, Alyosha and Khokhlakov pined over money, immortality and love.

Students in the play said they read Dostoevsky's novel in a workshop during the spring semester before auditions began. Christie Puiello, 23, who played “Liza,” said the workshop shed a spotlight on the performers.

"Everyone in the play just portrays the book so beautifully," Puiello said.

Joshua J. Cook, who plays a friend of one of the brothers, Perhotin, in the play agreed.

"They are living life at a mile a minute. One moment they want to jump off a cliff. The next minute they turn around and get married," said Cook, a senior theater arts major.

Peters said each character represented an emotion every person is capable of feeling.

"We all carry around a mixture of moral sensitivities and goodness and all of that has to be excepted as being human," Peters said.

The scenes didn't stop at the stage. Assistant master electrician Chris Liaghat, 22, senior in theater arts, estimated about 50 students worked beyond the spotlight. Students from eight different theater classes joined the behind-the-scenes crew working on scenery, painting, costumes, make-up, lighting, sound, props, crew heads and house managers. The production also included designers and directors who were not SF State students.

An ESL teacher, Vicky Holder, who also read Dostoevsky's novel, was impressed by Saturday's matinee.

"I think they're increasing the quality of performance," Holder said. "There are rapid scene changes, the sets are all imaginative, the lighting is very creative, and most the fighting is very realistic. Much better than SNL or your average movie."

Holder is also an opera and theater director and fluent in Russian, among other languages. She said her only complaint was the pronunciation of the names in the play because she thought the characters were accenting the wrong syllable and wondered if the actors took any coaching.

Jeremy Vorbing, senior in theater arts, who plays “Dmitri,” said the actors listened to CDs that sounded out the correct pronunciations. He said everyone pronounced the names differently up until the day of dress rehearsal, so they all huddled together, listened to a speech coach and agreed on a single articulation for the whole crew.

Cheers echoed throughout the Little Theater as the last cast member bowed on Sunday night. Peters said the crew was working with the script up until a week and a half before the premier, and the show was everything he had hoped.

"It went fabulously. We were really pushing ourselves and I can't thank the production, the designers, the crew and everyone involved, enough," he said.

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